*you inhale sharply at the reminder of Shohei Ohtani’s pitching abilities*
The 6’5″, 203 lb. star struck fear into the hearts of batters all over Japan, and may strike fear into the hearts of baseball fans outside of Anaheim, California as well. He’s got a great splitter, extremely effective slider, and a fastball that touches triple digits regularly (reaching speeds as high as 102 mph). Based purely off of his stuff and his size, Ohtani is a top-of-the-rotation type guy on paper, and then some.
But what will he look like on American soil (or–rather–dirt)?
In five seasons for the Nippon Hap Fighters (ages 18-22 seasons), Shohei Ohtani pitched 543 innings to the tune of a 2.52 ERA with 624 Ks (10.3 K/9), 200 BBs (3.3 BB/9), 24 HR (0.4 HR/9), and a WHIP of 1.076. That’s all… really, really good.
In comparison, Yu Darvish, who pitched 1268.1 Innings for the same team (Nippon Ham Fighters) in seven seasons (ages 18-24), had a 1.99 ERA, 1250 Ks (8.9 K/9), 333 BB (2.4 BB/9), allowed 58 HR (0.4 HR/9), and a WHIP of 0.985. Also really, really good.
While Darvish’s numbers, notably his ERA and BB/9 are better, what strikes me most is that Ohtani struck batters out more often. This is particularly interesting because Darvish is pretty well known as arguably the best strike out pitcher in the Majors. There’s no guarantee his success will transfer to the Majors in the same way that Darvish’s has (Darvish actually strikes out more batters per nine innings here–a whopping 11 K/9–than he did in Japan), but if they do, that’s a fantastic sign for the Angels. Also, I might add, a particularly awful sign for the Rangers and A’s, whose batters had the 4th and 5th most strike outs in the 2017 season, respectively. The Astros, on the other hand, struck out the least, and by a decent margin. Astros’ batters struck out 1,087 times, while Cleveland, the offense with the second-least amount of strike outs, racked up 1,153 (that’s 66 more, for those of you playing at home, which is the largest disparity between any two consecutive teams going down the list. You have to go all the way past the team with the 24th least, Pittsburgh, to see a team that struck out 66 more times than Cleveland). And there’s no reason to believe they’ll strike out much more in 2018. I’ll concede that a regression is always possible, but so is improvement. At any rate, I expect the number won’t change drastically either way. All that rambling is to say that the Astros won’t strike out a lot, so they shouldn’t be terribly worried about Ohtani in that sense.
Maybe Yu Darvish isn’t the best comparison, considering the way that the Astros ABSOLUTELY SHELLED HIM IN THE WORLD SERIES HAHAHA AMIRIGHT OR AMIRIGHT, FOLKS?!
*completely disregards the fact that the Astros franchise has an all time .603 OPS against Darvish in the regular season*
Let’s take a look at another former Japanese league pitcher, then.
Masahiro Tanaka played for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (also in the Japanese Pacific League) for seven seasons (ages 18-24), pitching 1315 innings to the tune of a 2.30 ERA, with 1238 Ks (8.5 K/9), 275 BBs (1.9 BB/9), allowed 66 HR (0.5 HR/9), with a 1.108 WHIP.
Both Darvish and Tanaka experienced incredible success in Japan and were able to transfer their success to the Majors pretty smoothly. Tanaka’s ERA for the Yankees is 3.56, considerably higher than the 2.30 ERA he had in Japan, but that can probably be attributed to the higher amount of home runs in Major League Baseball, especially Yankee Stadium. His HR/9 for the Yankees is 1.3, which is much higher than he had in Japan, but his strike out per walk ratio is quite a bit better (5.11 in MLB vs 4.50 in NPL), as is his WHIP. Yu Darvish, has seen his ERA grow in the Majors when compared to NPL as well (from 1.99 in NPL to 3.42 so far in Japan). However, both of those guys are the best pitchers on two clear contenders, and are both well respected (deservedly so) major league pitchers.
If Shohei Ohtani’s success in NPL can transfer to the Majors in the same way as those stud pitchers before him, he should be a force to be reckoned with for the Angels, just like Tanaka has been for the Yankees, and Darvish for the Rangers, Dodgers, and now Cubs. As strong as the Astros offense is, I don’t foresee them struggling with Ohtani too much, but this writer is sold on his likely ability to be a slight thorn in their side. The Astros are clearly the favorite in the AL West, but the Angels rotation is much improved, even if only for the addition of Shohei Ohtani.
Not-so-sidenote: According to Sports Illustrated, Ohtani is scheduled to start game three for the Angels, on March 31 against the Oakland Athletics, a team with a lot of power and a lot of swing-and-miss potential. Should be a fun one to watch.
Again, all player statistics from Baseball Reference; team stats from ESPN.